What They Wrote About Michelmore in America, Part 8

Segments of the U.S. Press were all over the postcard incident. The U.S. News and World Report wrote,” From the moment of its inception, despite laudable aims, the Peace Corps was bound to run into trouble.” They condemned the naiveté of the entire concept and claimed, “this is only the first big storm.”

Commonweal wrote in an editorial “The problem involved is really bigger than the Peace Corps for it reflects the gap that exists between the wealthy U.S. and most of the rest of the world. Given this fact, incidents like the postcard affair are bound to happen.”

Former President Eisenhower added his two cents, saying the “postcard” was evidence of the worthlessness of Kennedy’s new idea

However, columnist James Weschsler of the New York Post came to the aid of the Peace Corps and Marjorie. “Nothing in the card was sinister. It contained the instinctive expression of horror of an affluent American girl in her first direct encounter with the gruesome squalor of Nigeria. She was neither patronizing nor self-righteous in her comment; yet, whoever found the lost card managed to stage a big production.”

Michelmore, meanwhile, was getting support from Nigerians writing letters to Nigerian newspapers. Tai Solarin in the Lagos Daily Times wrote, “not a single Nigerian who knew this part of Nigeria would suggest that she was sending home a make-up story.”

While Murray Frank and the PCVs at University College of Ibadan might not have known it at first, the Volunteers were also getting help from Washington. Shriver met with the President as soon as the news broke, telegrams were going back and forth between the Peace Corps and Sam Proctor, the Peace Corps Director in Nigeria, on how to handle the situation.

And Marjorie, too, was well aware of what was happening around her because of the postcard. She would later write Kennedy, “I regret very much my part in the unfortunate affair at Ibadan. I hope that the embarrassment is caused the country and the Peace Corps effort will be neither serious nor lasting. [ Marjorie was right. Five months after the postcard incident, a second group of Volunteers arrived in Nigeria and were met at the airport by Prime Minister Abubakar Belewwa.]

As for Marjorie. She returned to Peace Corps HQ with Ruth Olson and Tim Adams and went to work with Betty Harris and Sally Bowles to put out the first issue of The Peace Corps Volunteer. It was, of course, an appropriate choice, as Coates Redmon states it in her book on the early days of the agency, Come As You Are: The Peace Corps Story, since Marjorie was the first returned Volunteers.

[In the next few blogs on this Peace Corps postcard, I will tell what happened to Marjorie Michelmore after life in the Peace Corps, how her postcard found its way from the Ibadan University campus mailroom to the world, how this postcard, in the words of Warren Wiggins “vaccinated” the Peace Corps from future troubles, and what President Kennedy, on the White House lawn, had to say to a group of Peace Corps Trainees about that postcard in the summer of 1962.]

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  • Two comments.
    No matter what we do, there will always be those who have a “bone to pick” with the USA. A recent survey by my alma mater, the U of Maryland, showed that public opinion around the world after President Obama´s efforts to revitalize America´s image is in the main still leary of a bullying America eager to use its muscle to put other countries in line.
    Next, the squeaky wheels will always get the journalistic “grease” since this is what passes for “news” in today´s world.

  • After the postcard incident, Marjorie Michelmore was sent to the Peace Corps Training Camp in Arecibo, P.R. where we were in training for Sierra Leone 1. It was the Fall of 1961. We assumed at the time that she was sent there to isolate her from the media but they caught up with her anyway. LIFE photographer Carl Mydans arrived witha reporter and shortly after, a photo-essay appeared in the magazine, incxluding a shot of Marjorie sharing her version of the postcard incident with us. When I returned from Sierra Leone two years later, I was hired by Columbia University’s Teacher’s College as a Program Manager for their Nigerian Peace Corps training programs. My first day on the job, I walked into the office of the Director to introduce myself to his secretary. To my great surprise, she turned out to be Marjorie, now using her married name. Over the next year and a half, a few hundred PCV’s were trained at Teacher’s College and had contact with Marjorie without ever knowing she was the lady in the Nigerian postcard incident. Only a couple of us knew who she was and we were told to keep her identity a secret.

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